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Illustration by Ada Tam

While there's no business like show business, it has become increasingly difficult to break into the film industry, especially for first-time directors who lack funds and connections. For the fourth year in a row, the Take Two Film Festival seeks to alleviate some of that burden by spotlighting international independent films focused on contemporary issues and relevant social commentary.

Running from April 10 to 12 at the Anthology Film Archives, 27 films have been chosen out of over 500 to be screened for audiences of film industry members and independent movie fans. On the final night, one film will receive a Manny Award for Outstanding Film. Shaped like a manhole cover, the Manny is given to the director who successfully takes the lid off independent film, as per the festival's motto.

Founded by Asher Bar Lev, the Take Two Film Festival was an offshoot of Salon Ciel—another independent art venture he operated with partner David Rheingold.

"The goal of Salon Ciel was really to give emerging painters and photographers that needed exposure and buyers to jumpstart their careers, and it was a nonprofit," producer Bobby Andishmand said. "In 2011, Asher said to David [Rheingold], 'I'm kind of tired of these shows, we've done so many. Many of the photographers and painters we've promoted are pretty mainstream now. How about we move to film?'"

Each year, all of the submissions received are viewed by a team of Take Two staffers. A rating system is in place to help determine finalists, with Bar Lev and Andishmand having the final say on whether the pieces will go on to be screened at the festival itself. While Take Two attracts filmmakers from across the United States, the organization has been consciously reaching out to schools in the New York City area.

"We have our different teams, but we work a lot with the schools—NYU, SVA, Columbia. Last year we had a girl who won an award for her thesis film at Columbia," Andishmand said. "Every year we try to make it grow. Last year we had a host, which we never had before, and this year we have two hosts, Andy Peeke and Lauryn Hamel, both actors on a show on ABC called 'What Would You Do?'"

By partnering with larger companies and institutions, like Indie Rights, Take Two is able to provide festival winners with unique opportunities to introduce their work to a broader audience.

"Indie Rights, which is a distributor in LA, is going to give a three-year distribution deal to any winning filmmaker at the festival, which is a non-exclusive distribution deal," Andishmand said. "They'll [the filmmakers will] get to keep 80 percent of whatever is made off their film and they can still show their film at film festivals across the country and the world. There's a law firm called VLA (Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts), and they will be providing a year's worth of free legal counsel to anyone who wins an award at our festival. We're slowly turning from a grassroots effort into an execution, where we give things that money can't buy."

In keeping with the idea of supporting young independent creators, Take Two allows students to submit an unlimited number of pieces to the festival free of charge. They are also working on expanding their grant program so that more international filmmakers are able to submit their work and travel to New York City to attend the festival if their pieces have been selected.

"Even though we don't have a fixed genre, we care about the human experience—anything that has social significance," Andishmand said. "We have very serious films and, on the other hand, we have very fun films. It's like a roller coaster, going up and down. ... We try to emphasize on an international, diverse perspective. The films that we screen really emphasize on what it means to be a human being—the good, the bad, and the ugly, everything that's part of the human experience. There's grief, loss, violence, inner demons, but also the fun stuff—juvenile behavior amongst adults, college students, broken hearts."

First-time filmmaker Lance Marshall's movie, "The Demon Deep in Oklahoma," explores emotional fragility and the complexities of interpersonal relationships. The short film centers on a brother and sister who live together in the secluded woods of Oklahoma and the aftermath of a visit from an old friend that evokes the supernatural.

"I like to explore relationships between people in love, like romantic love or familial love," Marshall said. "I'm very interested in how sometimes, when there's someone going through something, their loved ones tend to want to be the savior so badly, to be hero, that in return, they end up becoming an addition to the problem. They don't realize they're more of a crutch instead of helping the person."

Kirsten D'Andrea Hollander's film, "Us, Naked: Trixie and Monkey" also focuses on closeness and relationships, specifically the partnership between couple and circus burlesque duo Trixie and Monkey. Spanning across seven years, the film is a documentary that chronicles the couple's travels from clown school to burlesque shows in Vegas, and the trials and tribulations they face along the way.

Hollander, also a first-time filmmaker, felt encouraged by the amount of promotion and support that Andishmand and Bar Lev provided via social media promotions of the festival. She submitted her film after writer Sophia Harvey wrote an encouraging review of it for StageBuddy NYC and suggested that Hollander send it to Take Two. In creating this film, Hollander was able to take a risk creatively and wants to encourage others to do the same.

"You know they have the saying, 'It takes a village to raise a child'? I feel like it took a village to create this film because everyone who showed up, including Trixie and Monkey, did it for the love of the project. They loved what the project represents, which is staying true to your creativity no matter what."

While filmmaker Gabriel Miller's piece, "Sisyphus' Supper," is a more overt foray into the fantastical, he still deals with darker emotional themes of fate and regret. The titular character, a struggling chef named Cy, finds himself in Hell, a pretentious French restaurant. He grapples with questions of whether he is truly in control of his fate.

This is Miller's second time submitting to Take Two, which they said was largely motivated by how involved both Bar Lev and Andishmand are in promoting the festival and the individual filmmakers themselves.

"Both Bobby [Andishmand] and Asher [Bar Lev] are extremely kind, generous people, and really motivated to promote student work and student projects to get exposure in a way that is uncharacteristic, in terms of their personal attention," Miller said. "I enjoyed the festival experience the first time, and that both Bobby and Asher liked my film, so I wanted to submit my latest work. ... Speaking from experience, having just been to Sundance, it's rare the creator of the festival takes such an individual interest in the films and the filmmakers, and that's something I thought was unique."

Other films that will be screened cover topics ranging from life for a Muslim teenager in post-9/11 America, like in the film "I Am Selma," to one perilous journey through North Russia and Siberia in "Zima." Most of the submissions are from U.S. directors, with some movies by French, Israeli, South Korean, and Belgian directors, among others. According to Andishmand, the festival is expanding its presence every year and getting increasing numbers of international submissions.

The movie screenings will additionally be interspersed with panel discussions and Q&A sessions between producers, film industry members, and directors, giving audiences a better glimpse into the directors' creative processes.

Andishmand also added that some PR events are hosted after the screenings, and there are opportunities for the filmmakers to mingle with each other and industry representatives in a more informal setting, to exchange business cards and make connections.

Notably, the Manny award is not given to the "best" actor or the "best" film, but rather for an outstanding film. This is because the organization doesn't believe in superlatives like "best," since every film brings something unique to the table.

In addition to helping underserved filmmakers, Take Two also donates 5 percent of each ticket sold to the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit that offers aid to veterans affected by the September 11 bombing of the Twin Towers.

With their organic approach and efforts to cultivate meaningful relationships with the filmmakers they support, Andishmand and Bar Lev have succeeded in adding a personal touch often missing in a cutthroat industry.

The Take Two Film Festival runs at 32 Second Avenue. Tickets can be purchased online. | @ColumbiaSpec

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